Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Cloyne Court- Excerpt 25
Photo from Seattletimes.nwsource.com
Cloyne Court, Episode 25
By Dodie Katague
Wednesday, December 23, 2009
Rated "R" by the Author.
A creative memoir about Cloyne Court in Berkeley, California in the late 1970s.
With the warning, student servers wearing thick hot pads on their hands came striding from the kitchen carrying steaming industrial steel platters of food and laid them at one end of each table.
At least, we had table service. In later years, the food would be placed on a serving table by the kitchen door and there would a massive stampede to the front of the line in a free for all. On days when the food was edible, latecomers and slowpokes would starve.
Fred Boduran, who was sitting closest to the food tray, touched it and scalded himself. “Shit, that’s still hot!” He stuck his hand in a plastic water pitcher to soothe his burns.
We should have felt sorry for him, but at dinnertime that was a sign of weakness and the rest of the hungry crowd grabbed, reached and elbowed for the serving spoon, but it sunk to the bottom of the goo.
A woman from the table next to us saw our dilemma. How were we going to retrieve the serving spoon without using our bare hands and contaminating the food?
She didn’t hesitate. She came to our platter, stuck both her hands into the food and searched until she found the serving spoon. She used the spoon and her cupped hand to scoop food onto her plate. When she was finished stealing our food, she handed me the wet spoon.
I scooped a chunk of meat onto my plate. The woman looked at my food. She saw that she had failed to dish up a meat patty from the potage. She eyed my plate as I scooped. I held my fork like a stabbing weapon in case she encroached onto my plate.
Sensing my threat, she stuck her hand back into the platter and pulled out what looked like a chicken patty and held it between her teeth as she walked back to her table.
I scooped more food onto my plate, passed the spoon and ate without waiting for the rest of the table to be served. So much for table manners. I abandoned manners and ‘grace’ before dinner as a matter of necessity. I was hungry, and I didn’t want to pray with these people even if it was a formality. I wouldn’t rediscover those rituals until I had my own family decades later.
I watched Miguel, the only Hispanic in the house. He bowed his head, said grace in silence and crossed himself to emphasize the quality of his devotion. I think he was asking God to protect him from the food he was about to eat.
I turned to Katy. Dan wasn’t paying attention to her as he talked to Polly and Miguel. “Katy, are you an engineering student also?” I assumed this because Dan, Miguel, and Polly were discussing digital phase-lock loops on an integrated circuit, brand-new inventions back then. Polly claimed Berkeley scientists invented it first. Dan wasn’t so sure. I had no idea what they were talking about and still don’t.
“No, but Dan is, and he’s really into it,” she said. “He studies all the time.”
“What about you?” I asked. “What are you studying?”
“Not sure yet,” she said. “I’m at Berkeley because Dan was my high school boyfriend. When we both were accepted to Cal, he asked me to come with him. I figured, why not?”
“Are you two sharing a room?”
“We’re bunkies, but only since the beginning of the quarter. What are you studying?”
“I’m premed because my parents want me to, but I’m also prelaw because it seems like the thing to be, but I’m interested in architecture, and I didn’t get accepted into UCLA film school.” Nothing like a wishy-washy answer to exude self-confidence.
“What is this supposed to be?” Alan said, scooping a grayish sauce and some solid chunks onto his plate.
“It’s supposed to be chicken patties in a cream sauce au gratin,” Miguel said.
“Mine tastes like blackened something.” Mike had scooped food from the burnt side of the serving platter. I had scooped from the opposite side and mine was lukewarm. The meat chunks were cold and gelatinous.
Alan spooned food into his mouth, chewed for a few seconds, then spit it out. “This isn’t meat! This is tofu!” He searched through the casserole with his fork prodding for anything resembling turkey or chicken. “This food is crap! How come there isn’t any meat?”
Everyone shrugged and kept on chewing.
Then, Peter, the food manager walked out of the kitchen with another steel container of slop. “Peter, what is this food?” Alan asked. “How come it doesn’t have any meat in it?”
“It’s vegetarian. Tofu instead of meat.”
“But this isn’t what Central Kitchen was making today. I was there this afternoon peeling potatoes for my work shift. I saw them defrosting the chicken patties. How come we didn’t get the same food all the other houses are getting?”
“You missed the last house meeting. The house voted to serve vegetarian meals one night a week instead of getting it from Central Kitchen. Tonight’s the night.”
“But what is it?”
“Ah, something tofu, bean sprout surprise.”
“But this is the second time this week we’ve had vegetarian. How come we aren’t getting any meat?”
“Remember the barbecue we had a few weeks ago? We used up our hamburger stock to do that little feast.”
“You mean, we’re eating badly because you can’t properly plan and budget a meal. What kind of food manager are you?”
“You elected me to be food manager. I’ll manage it as I see fit. If you don’t like it, go beat your meat.” I’m sure he meant it in a nourishing sort of way.
Cloyne Court was released in 2009 and is currently available to buy at a deep discount to "everyone" at Barnes & Noble.com. There's no telling how long Barnes & Noble will keep this discount where it is.